Derwent Academy Watercolor Pencils
12-36 count pack
Great Dry or Wet
Only 36 Pencils in Largest Set
More Intended for “Adult” Beginners
Derwent Academy Watercolor Pencils Review
Last Updated by Brandon F. on June 23, 2020
The second half of the Academy lineup by Derwent is their watercolor set. Similar to the Academy Colored Pencil set, the Watercolor Set tries to take many of the positive attributes of pricier Derwent sets and put them in a more affordable and beginner-friendly package. This is accomplished by focusing on more “normal” colors, providing a color output that is easy for a beginner to apply and control, offering a more resilient barrel and core, and of course making it affordable.
These pencils come in 12 to 36 count packs, have a 6.9mm hexagonal barrel, and a 3.3mm core. In terms of pricing, they typically can be had in the upper budget price tier or lower intermediate tier.
Visual Appeal – 4.5/5
Derwent has strived to make their Academy Watercolor Pencils the go-to for budding artists who are looking to experience the joys of watercolor pencils. They advertise that these are essentially 2 pencils in 1: a formidable traditional colored pencil and, when exposed to water, an effective watercolor pencil.
You will find the same color options in the various set sizes as you do in the sister Academy Colored Pencil set. And we have similar feelings about this as we did with that set: a good selection of blues, reds, and yellows but somewhat lacking in other areas. In particular, if you enjoy face portraits and certain types of landscapes, you may find that the color gaps are noticeable. This issue is exacerbated if you go with one of the smaller sets.
That being said, the colors might be the same but the performance of them is a bit different. This is because Derwent likely uses a slightly different core for their watercolor pencils. Because of a different core recipe, the colors do have a unique feel to them.
Overall, we feel that these pencils have a bit more “pop” to them compared to the sister set. This may be because Derwent knew that these pencils would be mixed with water or other solvents so having enough color to adequately spread was a concern. Whatever the reason, we prefer it.
Some of the brighter colors such as Cadmium Yellow and Bright Pink remind us of some of Derwent’s Inktense lineup (which are some of the most vivid pencils we have ever tested). Furthermore, it was very easy to control your color depth: very light pressure would still put color on the page while if you decide to push down it produces some impressive hues.
Up to this point, our discussion has been centered around a dry application. When you apply some water, it opens up the capabilities of these pencils. The bright color pays off here. You will find that spreading color and maintaining acceptable levels of color intensity is very easy. Our favorites were the blues that almost effortlessly spread over the paper. This makes skylines and ocean scenes a lot of fun to experiment with.
We found that blending colors when wet is very easy as well. This helps to fill in some of the noticeable color gaps that the smaller sets in particular contain. Blending when dry is not as easy but still acceptable given the price point and the fact that these are watercolor pencils.
As for color consistency: there were some more noticeable inconsistencies in strokes than with the colored pencil set. We found that small areas of darker or lighter color would pop up from time to time. This isn’t a huge deal since you will likely use water to blend in the colors but it is worth mentioning. This is a common issue with some of the “brighter” on the market pencils as well.
Usability and Durability – 4/5
Derwent Academy Watercolor Pencils come in a slightly thicker core (3.3mm) which makes it much easier to put down some serious color. When you combine this thicker core with the fact that it is much brighter, the results can be eye-popping.
There can be an issue with this, however. Trying to teach a beginner to use control and work in very detailed areas may be a bit more challenging with these pencils because of their color intensity and larger core. But after a period of practicing, they should be able to get the hang of it. And these come with a hexagonal barrel which we always prefer when trying to maintain better hand control.
We briefly discussed blending in the section above but wanted to expand on it here. Derwent exclaims that there are multiple ways to fully use these watercolor pencils. They include applying dry, applying wet on dry paper, applying wet on wet paper, applying dry and washing over with a paintbrush, and finally breaking a piece of the core off and mixing with water to create a sort of “paint” that is then applied with a brush.
There are a lot of different options! If we had to pick one, we would say that applying dry then “opening up” with a paintbrush has the best results.
As for durability, it is important to remember that these pencils are designed for being used by beginners. Because of this, having a strong core and being pencil sharpener-friendly are musts. Overall, we feel that Derwent has achieved both with these. While we feel that the pencil cores may be a hair more fragile than with the colored pencils, they should still do fine in most classroom settings with older children.
Packaging and Presentation – 4.5/5
We love the packaging that these watercolor pencils come in. Most pencils at this price range are packaged in cheap cardboard which provides little in the way of protection. Derwent offers their Academy Watercolor Pencils in an attractive tin case with accompanying plastic sleeve. This provides a superior level of protection, makes it easier to sort and find the pencil that you are looking for, and simply looks much more visually appealing.
As for the pencils themselves, they come in an attractive black barrel. The base of the pencils is dipped in a color-matching color which makes for quick and easy identification. And above this, you will find the specific color name as well as the Derwent name and pencil type. All in all, this is a very classy look that makes us forget that these are supposed to be entry-level watercolor pencils.
Cost – 4/5
Seeing how these are targeted at beginners and/or students, the asking price is an important consideration. In these types of environments, spending a lot of money on an expensive premium set of pencils is pretty silly. First, the people that are using them are new to the art and likely can’t fully take advantage nor appreciate the special ability that these higher-end pencils possess. Second, more expensive pencils oftentimes come with softer and more fragile cores. Classroom settings can be a gauntlet of torture for pencils due to excessive application pressure, constant exposure to pencil sharpeners, and being improperly stored.
Considering this, we feel that these pencils might be a bit too pricey to be fully considered an entry-level classroom set. Yes, they come with a rather strong core and offer great protection thanks to the tin case, but they are noticeably more expensive than many of the other true beginner lines that we have reviewed.
That being said, they are still “cheap” overall. And we feel that they offer a great value considering the improved level of performance and versatility you will get with them.
Overall Ranking – 4.5/5
The Derwent Academy Watercolor Pencils are an impressive addition to Derwent’s storied art supply lineup. They have been able to take many of the great qualities that Derwent has instilled in their more expensive sets designed for passionate hobbyists to advanced professionals and incorporate them into this beginner set.
The color output is fabulous considering the price and it works nicely with the great blending that these are capable of. While they can be used dry, we encourage people to add a little water and explore what these watercolor pencils have to offer. Being a smaller set, there will be some color gaps but the blending certainly helps to fill those gaps.
The packaging and overall build quality are very good. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that these pencils are 4x their actual cost from examining them and holding them. And this translates over to a quite resilient core and barrel that should be able to take most of the demands of a beginner setting.
However, we feel similar to these as we do to the Academy Colored Pencil set. They are a great entry-level lineup: but more for teenagers and adults. If you are trying to introduce small children to the wonderful art of coloring, stick with a more affordable set with fewer capabilities but a lower asking price. Some of the special qualities of these watercolor pencils will go overlooked by very young artists and you will just find yourself having to open your pocketbook more to replace them.